“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Stop "blaming" people with disabilities!

When you try to answer the question "What is disability?" the typical response, typical understanding is based upon two "models" of disability. The medical model says that disability is a characteristic of individuals. So I have a visual impairment or I use a wheelchair. However as research has indicated, the experience of persons with disabilities cannot be explained on the basis of their impairment. That is, there is something else which must be taken into account in understanding what disability is. The social model was developed to try to explain that. The social model says that the experience of disability is in part the experience of being discriminated against because of this characteristic one has called impairment. If we truly want to understand disability and assist those who experience disability we need to maximize a persons skills and change a discriminatory social environment.

It is interesting, however, how we have many different strategies that we use to teach people with disabilities or help them to not be limited by their impairment: medical model interventions. Yet we do next to nothing to change social environments such that people do not experience the other part of disability, discrimination: social model interventions. If for some reason you are not successful in a job, we seem to assume you were the problem and we give you more training. If you are excluded from a social environment, we assume you were the problem and try to improve your social skills. The take home lesson, is that if I experience discrimination because of a characteristic I have, the answer is to somehow fix me. I don't think we really feel the hurtfulness of that.

We need to stop "blaming" people with disabilities. You might think I am overstating this response, but when have you ever interacted with schools or human service agencies where the focus of their efforts was social environment change versus solely changing the individual with the disability? As stated, we have myriad interventions to improve the skills of individuals. Do we have any strategies that are employed to change social environments? It is as if there is no knowledge of the fact that a major understanding of what the experience of disability is, is to be discriminated against by the social environment. Many people who I have spoken to will tell me, the most difficult part of having a disability is not the disability but the way you are treated if you have a disability. Now this is a very broad statement, and there are many disabilities where there is great suffering experienced. But there are many others for which this statement is true.

But what does this have to do with the Christian community? It is arguable that efforts that people make to include persons with impairments into local churches are perhaps the ONLY efforts being made to change the social environment. Things you have read on this blog about cultural change within the church are perfect examples of this social model type of intervention. We say that we need to accept people with disabilities, as they are, and work to change the church social environment such that it is more loving of its neighbor. Can you detect the HUGE difference here? We have moved away from blaming someone for the discrimination they face, seeking to continually improve them in some way such that they might be "acceptable" the to social environment. Instead we say to the social environment, "You need to change." "When are you going to love your neighbor?"

This is an important realization.

It is we in the Christian community who should and to some degree are the only ones truly working on social environment change, seeing ourselves as the purveyors of discrimination and working toward the goals of inclusion and belonging as if we were working on an IEP for the church.
May God forgive us for our lack of love.
But may God also bless us with great progress as we seek to be the place where social model change is truly being explored, embraced and implemented!



Nicolette Gastelum said...

There are different types of disabilities. Instead of blaming them for doing something wrong, we should help them to understand what went wrong and help them do it correctly. The disability is a part of who the person is are and cannot change. The person with the disability should not have to change or be blamed for something that was done wrong. The hardest part of a disability is the way they are treated. For example, in 6th grade, I was always picked on by one person in my class because I was the shortest in my class because of a chromosomal condition that results in a short stature. It is who I am, and I cannot control it. Others with disabilities might be excluded because they are different or assume that they cannot do something because of the disability. Just because someone has a disability, physically or not, should not mean we treat them differently or change them. Instead, we should show support for them and treat them as equals in society. We should be encouraging and include them in social groups and church groups, like bible study. We also need to our part to help those with disabilities.

Anonymous said...

As I was reading your post all I could think about was how true and accurate your thoughts are. We live in a world that blames anyone or anything that doesn't fit the "norm" model. However, there, in fact, is no "norm." Who are we (society) to decide what is normal and what is not normal. Our world exists with a variety of different people who are not the same and we should create a world that is fit for all. Disabilities need to be more known about. I feel the reason society tries so hard to push people with disabilities away is that they don't know about them and its scary to deal with the unknown. However, if more people knew about different disabilities they would be more inclined to help or want to change the world. If we could get more people to care about one another both in society and in the community of our church this world would be a better place. I love your last statement "May God bless us with great progress..." May the Lord enrich our minds as well as those around us with more love and ideas to create a better world where all feel welcome.

Anonymous said...

I have worked with individuals who have moderate to severe disabilities for almost eight years now, during this time it would make me feel good to participate in things such as the special ed prom, get involved in the disability ministries at church, hang out in special education classrooms and wing of the high school that I went to, but since entering your class, I have realized how twisted that actually is. It took me until I heard you speak on the social model to realize that this separation and blaming that we put on those with disabilities is nothing to smile about. I have been blatantly involving myself in services that have removed the idea of community involvement and separated them from any possibility of community involvement. You have fully changed my point of view and have impacted the way that I have been supporting these groups that separate these individuals. Ending my post as you did yours, may God forgive us (including me) for our lack of love.

Bx Interventionist said...

As I began reading this post, I immediately thought ABA services for children with Autism. I questioned whether these services are a social moral of “fixing” the child to fit the norms of society. ABA teaches children new skills to change how they live in the social environment. Now my question is, is ABA bad? Are we harming the children with Autism or are we helping them? I understand society should fix its environment for people with disabilities. Society needs to be aware that people with disabilities have a purpose and we need them to be part of our society just the way they are. However, it would be great if a child with severe autism would be able to ask for help or change his clothes independently. I have seen great accomplishment in child independency when they have ABA services. Would ABA services be considered not loving thy neighbor because we are not accepting for who they are and we are trying to change them to fit in our lifestyles? These are the question I am asking myself as I read this post. As an ABA behavioral interventionist, I have always thought I was helping them by teaching them new skills but now I am wondering, shouldn’t we just accept them for who they are meant to be?

Anonymous said...

This post spoke a lot to me about the way we speak about people with disabilities and how we treat them and the types of accommodations we make for them. I think the most important part behind stopping the “blaming” of people with disabilities in education. Educating not just teachers and people who interact with the person on a daily basis but educating the world about different disabilities and ways that we can make everyday accommodations in our lives for people with all different types of disabilities. My nephews are both autistic and I thought I knew a lot of ways to help them and educate, them but through my own education I have found more ways and better ways to help assist them in everyday life. For a long time with my oldest nephew, we considered teaching him “proper” social cues. Helping him make sure that he knew that he couldn't only talk about what he wanted to talk about, that he needed to allow other people to talk. To make sure that he didn't invade other people's personal space and give him boundaries so he understood what personal space was. I now see how that could be limiting him. He is a loving child who wants to love everyone that he's near and some people just need that in their lives. I was reminded of that recently with my younger nephew. We were at a wedding and we were leaving it at the very end when he gave a hug to the waitress and told her thank you so much for everything she did for the wedding. The waitress came to me and said “is that your son” I said “no it's my nephew” she said “well tell his mom that that was the most amazing thing that anyone could do for me today.” She went on to tell me that she had recently lost her mother and it was her mother's birthday she was going to be alone for the day so she decided to work a double shift and work at the wedding we were at. She said it meant the world to her to get that little bit of love on a day like that day. At the end of the day, I see the benefits in education and how we should educate the world on different disabilities like we would any subject so that we can all share in that little bit of love and not keep that love from others.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more with this post. After interviewing a family of a child with a disability for a project, the one thing that stood out to me was how the only thing they could complain about was how people reacted to the disabled adult having an accident in public then the accident itself. To them, raising a child with disabilities was not the hard part. The hard part was the way others treated their child and how they reacted to him in public. It truly broke my heart as I wondered how the child must have felt walking to the bathroom to get cleaned while everyone stared or made comments to the working staff. As a society, we do not accept those who are different from us, and I believe people with disabilities get the worst of this. Society tends to view people with disabilities as a burden, as something they do not want to deal with, or that is not their problem. I hate to say this, but we are a selfish society that places more importance on making money, worrying about just ourselves, then on loving one another and helping one another. Mix that in with the ignorance that surrounds disabilities, and you get what we have now, a society that is too busy with their own lives to try and love their neighbor.

Nate Williams said...

“This is an important realization,” was the perfect sentence to summarize the need to make this change. As I was reading this blog I was in the midst of writing the modified lesson for my special topic paper. And the thing I felt most important before actually modifying the lesson to fit the needs of my student with Tourette’s, was to change the culture of my classroom. I wanted to emphasize that everyone is welcome in my class and no one person is better or more capable than another. I wanted to explain to my students the reality of the situation and say that there is no place for ridicule or harsh words in my class. I just felt like shifting the culture of my class to make it inviting for any student who walks in the door was the most important priority.
This post reaffirmed that idea. Personally, as a Christian, I agree that we should be on the fore front of making this change from trying to change those with disabilities to trying to change the reality that they face each and every day. For students with TS, the discrimination they face can often be more harmful than the disability itself. I believe as you said, that with God’s grace and power we can make a true difference in this area.